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How to Prevent Teeth Grinding

Wearing a night guard can help protect your teeth from the damage inflicted by teeth grinding.

Stress is an unfortunate part of our everyday lives. While it's a nuisance, we learn to live with it. But with stress comes unwanted side effects that can greatly affect our health -- in fact, stress has been linked to heart disease, immune-related disorders, digestive problems and ... dental problems! Actually, stress is a common contributor to teeth grinding, or the gnashing or clenching of the jaw.

Referred to by dentists as bruxism, teeth grinding applies consistent pressure on your teeth and can cause great damage, wearing teeth down until they chip, break or are lost completely. Teeth grinding commonly appears in the form of sleep bruxism, where the grinding occurs while you are sleeping. But even when teeth grinding occurs unconsciously, it can be prevented.

Mixed Signals

Although teeth grinding is habitual, many people aren't aware of their problem and often attribute their symptoms to other medical ailments. Being aware of the signs can help you diagnose the problem before significant damage occurs. The following signals may alert you to the fact you're grinding your teeth:

  • Tooth damage, including the wearing down of enamel or broken, cracked or chipped teeth
  • Recurring headaches or earaches
  • Soreness in the jaw muscles or TMD
  • Tooth sensitivity

Cause and Effect

As with any medical ailment, you must determine the cause to eliminate the problem. In many cases, controlling bruxism means changing the behavior that triggers it. The following tips may help you defeat your teeth grinding habit:

Reduce Stress -- There are several methods that people use to reduce stress, including exercise, relaxation techniques, therapy and medications. If you suffer from teeth grinding as a result of stress, talk to your doctor about the right stress reduction method for you.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol -- Stimulants and depressants have been linked to various sleep disorders. Limit caffeine and alcohol to avoid developing a habit.

Ease the Tension -- Prior to going to bed, place a warm washcloth over your jaw joints, which are located in front of your ears. The heat will help soothe and relax your muscles. Massaging your jaw or using aromatherapy can also help you relax and sleep.

Think Ergonomics -- Sleep on your back to reduce the amount of pressure placed on your jaw joints. If sleeping on your back isn't an option, a contoured pillow may help relax your jaw.

Mind Over Matter -- If you're grinding your teeth during the day, make yourself aware of when it happens and train yourself not to clench your jaw.

Control Your Diet -- A vitamin deficiency can contribute to muscle spasms and affect motor activity. A diet rich in pantothenic acid and calcium may help prevent bruxism.

Avoid Chewing on Hard Objects or Gum -- Constant chewing is habit-forming and can lead to teeth grinding. 

Check the Label -- Bruxism may be a side effect of some medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects before taking prescription drugs.

Get a Checkup -- Have your dentist check the alignment of your teeth and make sure your dental appliances are fitted properly. An ill-fitting dental crown or dental bridge can also cause unnecessary stress on your jawbone.

Need More Help?

If you suffer from teeth grinding, talk to your dentist about having a mouthguard or night guard made. A custom-made night guard protects your teeth from grinding and provides a comfortable fit so you can sleep while you're wearing it.

If you're still not sure what's causing you to grind your teeth, see your dentist. Not only will your dentist help you find the solution to your problem, but regular dental visits will allow your dentist to check for signs of bruxism and help you control it before the damage gets out of hand.